For the better part of five seasons on Breaking Bad, Walter White was considered an anti-hero, while his wife, Skyler, was often seen as the the antagonist. Walter White was directly responsible for or connected to the murders of 31 people. Skyler White killed no one, and yet she was seen as the bad guy. Jesse Pinkman killed three people, including one incident in which he shot a man in the face. Jesse Pinkman was a fan favorite on Breaking Bad. Mike Ehrmantraut has killed 11 people that we know of, already. He’s practically a hero on Better Call Saul. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman defended drug dealers, laundered money, and attempted to orchestrate a hit on Jesse Pinkman. He’s beloved on Better Call Saul.
There are very few “good” guys in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, so why is it we end up loving these morally bankrupt drug manufacturers, facilitators, and murderers? Or Tony Soprano? Or Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings? Or Vic Mackey? Dexter Morgan? Nucky Thompson? Or Jax Teller?
There’s no profound secret to it. It’s about point of view. Characters don’t have to be “likable,” we just have to be able to understand their motivations from their point of view. We understood and cared about Walter White, to a point, because we understood his motivations: To provide enough money to take care of his family after his death from cancer. It was only after that motivations became corrupted by power that some of us jumped off the Walter White train.
Similarly, as long as Mike Ehrmantraut is murdering people for the benefit of his granddaughter, we’ll probably continue to care about Mike, even as his “code” is bent and twisted in Breaking Bad. It’s why the more we learn about Mike, the more heartbreaking his death scene becomes. What may eventually transform Gus Fring from a “cool villain” to a guy we actually care about is what Lydia insinuated at last week: That Gus is so much more than a drug distributor. We may soon find out what his true motivations are, and maybe we’ll end up caring about Gus Fring in that way, too. The fact that he’s also a guy who saved the life of his biggest enemy in the season finale may move us along that path.
No character has benefited more from seeing his story unfold from his point of view than Jimmy McGill. We never saw Saul Goodman from his point of view in Breaking Bad. All we knew is that he was an oily, fast-talking shyster. He provided some comic relief in Breaking Bad, but he was never a character we genuinely cared about. But now we understand him. We know how hard he worked to try and impress his brother. We know that much of what motivates him is his love for Kim Wexler. It’s really difficult now to imagine Jimmy McGill as the bad guy we know from Breaking Bad. How does Jimmy McGill — who feels guilty about taking cash to write wills for old ladies he not only adores but remembers the names of their grandchildren — transform into a sleazy, indifferent criminal lawyer demanding VISA or Mastercard from a drug-dealing client he confused with someone else arrested for public masturbation?
Maybe, Jimmy doesn’t change that much. Maybe we just don’t have his point of view in Breaking Bad.
I don’t know what Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan’s plans are for the future of Better Call Saul, but in my ideal scenario, there’s one more season leading up to the events of Breaking Bad, one season that follows “Gene” after the events of Breaking Bad, and one season set during the events of Breaking Bad. The degree of difficulty would be high, but I would love to be able to see Gould and Gilligan put Saul Goodman’s actions into context, to see what is motivating him during those years.
“There’s a chance that [Kim] and Jimmy are married” during events of Breaking Bad “and she’s up in Santa Fe,” Bob Odenkirk suggested in this week’s Better Call Saul Insider Podcast. “Maybe they have two wonderful kids. Dad goes to Albuquerque and is a sleaze ball and Mom goes to Santa Fe and runs one of top law offices in the state.”
“Saul literally goes to the strip club just for appearances,” Odenkirk continues. “He puts his timer on his phone, and when it goes off, he slips back to a very nice suburb. He’s a great dad. His wife is the Attorney General for New Mexico. He changes his garish Saul Goodman suit to a reasonable suburban dad suit in the car while he’s driving between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”
Odenkirk is joking, of course, but my hopes for season five could be closer to that than what we might have previously imagined. We don’t see Saul Goodman from his point of view, so we don’t necessarily know that Kim is out of the picture. Maybe Jimmy doesn’t completely spiral after Chuck’s death; maybe he simply gets gradually more and more desperate to fix a situation he’s put himself in with Kim. Maybe he spends his Sandpiper money before the check comes in and it never materializes, putting Jimmy in a hole that only Saul Goodman can climb out of.
Look: We already have some context for a few of Saul’s decisions. We know why he called Mike in as his fixer when Jane died; there’s a relationship between Jimmy and Mike that we can call upon to provide that scene with context. Why did Jimmy set Walter up with Gus Fring? Probably for the same exact reason: He owed Mike. Mike owed him. We have already established that they call upon each other for favors.
I’d also love to know why Saul approached Walter for the first time and offered to be his silent partner? What hole did he have to dig himself out of? Did he have to psych himself up before that conversation? Did he have a conversation with himself, or with Kim, about crossing a certain line? Who else is in the picture during those Breaking Bad years besides Francesa? I’d also like to know what’s going on in Jimmy’s mind when he orders the hit on Jesse. What was going on in his life that drove him to such a decision?
Knowing Gould and Gilligan as we do, they could find a way to make us understand and maybe even empathize with those decisions. With Jimmy’s point of view, we might just see the sleaze ball tactics of Saul Goodman as the necessary actions of a decent Jimmy McGill. Again, the degree of difficulty would be high, but that would be riveting television.